Retrial at hand in Hoffman obstruction of justice case
NORTHAMPTON — For the second time in two months, federal prosecutors will bring to trial an obstruction of justice case against Christopher J. Hoffman, the former acting probation chief of Hampshire Superior Court.
Hoffman, of Hatfield, was charged in late 2011 in U.S. District Court with two counts of attempted harassment and intimidation of a witness, charges that grew out of an FBI probe into corrupt hiring and promotion practices in the state’s Probation Department.
After a five-day trial in May, a mistrial was declared when a jury could not come to a consensus after two days of deliberations on the charges against Hoffman. At the time, federal prosecutors said they planned to bring the case to trial again.
The new trial is scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Worcester.
“I’m not surprised at anything the government does,” said Hoffman’s attorney, Vincent A. Bongiorni of Springfield when asked his thoughts on the government retrying the case. He said Hoffman, who remains on unpaid leave, maintains his innocence.
Hoffman was removed from his position in October 2011, less than two months after he was questioned by federal agents about his employment and relationship with former deputy probation commissioner William H. Burke III, also of Hatfield. Hoffman later told the FBI that Burke was responsible for all of his jobs and promotions in probation.
Hoffman was later arrested and indicted on charges that he harassed and intimidated fellow Probation Officer Maureen Adams, his subordinate, around the time she was to be questioned by the FBI. During the May trial, Adams, of Goshen, testified that Hoffman told her he was going to tell everyone she was a “rat” shortly before her interview with the FBI and that she would be in jail within a week.
In closing statements, prosecutors sought to establish that Hoffman had a strong motive to make the rat comment and others to Adams because he knew Burke was a target of the federal investigation and was worried about his own job security. Bongiorni, his defense attorney, argued that Adams had an “ax to grind” with Hoffman and had been selective in her statements to the FBI and a former acting probation commissioner on multiple occasions because she did not tell them for months that Hoffman had told her to “tell the truth” and “don’t lie” before her meetings with federal agents.
Burke, 69, was earlier indicted as part of a larger corruption probe and has pleaded not guilty to charges of mail fraud, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery, along with former probation commissioner John J. O’Brien and former deputy probation commissioner Elizabeth V. Tavares. Burke’s trial date has been scheduled for January 2014 and is expected to take 4 to 6 weeks.
Hoffman’s May trial involved testimony from more than a half dozen current and former probation officers in the Northampton courts, some of whom described a tense working atmosphere as the federal corruption probe unfolded, particularly in the Superior Court probation ranks.
Many of the same witnesses will be called to the stand again next week, though the government has added some potential new witnesses, including Francis Wall of Walpole and Probation Officer Jason Harder of Florence, according to court documents.
Wall, a former and retired deputy probation commissioner, was earlier granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against O’Brien in state and federal corruption cases. He recently took the stand in O’Brien’s bribery trial.
Harder is a probation officer in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown who was part of an earlier arbitration case led to the reposting of jobs in Hampshire Superior Court after an arbitrator in September 2012 ruled that he was unfairly passed over in 2005 for jobs in that court that went to Hoffman and Adams.
Dan Crowley can be reached at email@example.com.